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Being "In Scene" in your story. - Corinne O'Flynn

While workshopping (Is that a word? I am making an executive decision. It is.)  Where was I?

While workshopping my manuscript this past week, I was made aware of a weakness in my writing. I have a tendency to get lost in narrative summary, keeping my story in the speaker’s head instead of bringing everything into present action and portraying it all in scene.

It wasn’t difficult to identify where it was happening, and it wasn’t hard to transform the scenes into present action, but it was hard to cut some lines and reword things that I was especially attached to in that draft. But letting go of my hold on the lovely images I thought I was conveying through my narrative and reworking the scenes to be present action made for a much more compelling story.  I thought I’d share what I’ve learned.

Here’s an example that I have made up just for you!

Narrative Summary:

I stood there looking at Jackson, wondering if all of this was just going on inside my head. Resisting the truth of his words in spite of the fact they made perfect sense was like trying to stop an ocean wave with my bare hands. Could there be another explanation for these voices that spoke to me, through me? The woman with the soft Southern twang who gave words to my every thought and action, sometimes even before I knew exactly how I felt or what I was going to do? I stood frozen in the doorway, gripping the threshold. Could Jackson be right? Could it be that we were both just characters in some writer’s head?

In scene:

“Marcy, I hear a voice, too. She sounds like she’s from Texas or something.” Jackson took my hand in his as if trying to be reassuring. It only made me feel more trapped. “Come on,” he said. “You know it’s the only thing that makes sense.”

“No, I won’t accept it!” I cried. “That makes everything I am, everything I am living for, meaningless!” I pulled my hand away and hugged myself, shivering in spite of the midsummer warmth that had forced us into the shade of the screened porch. “I’d rather be told I was crazy than know this voice is some narrator building my life in her head. That some stranger with a Southern accent was writing my feelings and my thoughts for me with such… exactness.”  I pressed my hands into my eyes to stop the throbbing in my brain.

Marcy pressed her hands to her eyes as the truth washed over her.

That voice again. 

The truth of it hit me. It suddenly felt like I was trying to stop a wave with my bare hands. I didn’t really exist. Not in the world, anyway. I was a collection of words on the pages between two covers. I wondered it they were hard covers at least.


So, that is not the most artful story, and it could use its own several drafts before it is polished, but if you overlook another weakness of mine (punctuation), you’ll see how the second “in scene” example is much more vivid and brings you into the action of the moment. You get a better sense of the two characters, albeit brief due to the sample size.  But overall you’ll end up with more opportunities to reveal your characters by their own words and actions and thoughts instead of having the whole thing be told to you from a single character in their head.

I’ve been working through my manuscript trying to cull the areas of narrative summary and convert them to action in scene. I think it makes for a much more enjoyable read.

Do you suffer from the over-use of narrative summary?

About the Author Corinne

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